soccer

God, man and FIFA: The ongoing struggle to keep soccer as 'secular' as possible

God, man and FIFA: The ongoing struggle to keep soccer as 'secular' as possible

Before we dive into this week's "Crossroads" podcast -- which is about faith and football (soccer here in America) -- please click here and take a look at the map that ran atop a Washington Post feature story in 2015. (To tune in the new podcast, just click here.)

Basically, if you are looking for lots and lots of unbelievers, your best bet is to head to China, Europe and other highly industrialized and educated nations.

Where things get really complex is in Europe -- a continent in which belief and unbelief bump into one another on a regular basis. North America is quickly moving in that direction as well (you may have seen a few headlines about that). 

Now, look at the same map and think about the teams that made it into this year's FIFA World Cup (click here for a list).

Quite a mix of faith-intensive and rather faith-free nations, right? And what about the championship game, with powerful France taking on the cinderella squad from Croatia?

The Catholic News Agency offered this interesting feature about Croatia and its coach, under this striking headline: "Croatia's World Cup soccer coach clings to the rosary as he finds success."

How would this kind of symbolism play in modern France? Here is a key chunk of this story:

Here’s one reason Catholics in the US might be rooting for the small Central European country: Croatia is a deeply Catholic country, and the coach of its national team, Zlatko Dalic, is a man of sincere faith.

Dalic said recently that his current success is due to his faith in God, and that he always carries a rosary to hold onto in difficult times. Dalic spoke about his faith on Croatian Catholic radio when the World Cup began.

“Everything I have done in my life and in my professional career I owe to my faith, and I am grateful to my Lord,” Dalic said. ... "When a man loses any hope, then he must depend on our merciful God and on our faith," he said.

In that sense, Dalic explained that "I always carry a rosary with me" and "when I feel that I am going through a difficult time I put my hand in my pocket, I cling to it and then everything is easier.”

Now, why is the rosary hidden in his pocket? Why not just wear it around his wrist?

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Flip side of GetReligion's coin: Some people (journalists) really think religion is fake

Flip side of GetReligion's coin: Some people (journalists) really think religion is fake

This whole week, I have been in Prague in the Czech Republic, teaching in a conference for young journalists -- most of whom are from Eastern Europe.

You will not be surprised to know that I have been lecturing on the importance of accurate informed news coverage of religion. And that led right into this week's (long distance) Crossroads podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Since I am in serious soccer territory, I talked about my post earlier this week that ran with this headline: "Telegraph hits some sour notes in a simple story about a footballer becoming a priest." I told them that this was not a horrible story, but it contained many awkward, simple, rather stupid mistakes.

What, I asked, if you were a soccer fan and you kept reading stories by reporters who did not know the difference between a striker and a goalie, between a corner kick and a brilliant cross during a breakaway, between the World Cup and the Euro championships? After a while, wouldn't you lose some faith in that newspaper, in its commitment to quality?

This, I said, is how millions of people feel when they read twisted, flawed religion-news coverage.

But what, several of the students said, if you really don't think religion matters? That you believe that religious faith is basically meaningless or worse?

It doesn't matter, I argued. Do you think you need to understand religion to cover the Middle East? How about European arguments about immigration? How about the 2016 USA White House race?

In other words, I made a SOCIOLOGICAL case for religion coverage, not a THEOLOGICAL case. I have known atheists who were fine religion-beat pros, because they grasped the role that religion played in public and private life.

So then a student from the former Soviet bloc asked: So, would you argue that Communism was a religion?

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